Panel 12 (Dederichs)

(Non-)Sustainable Concepts: Empirical and theoretical consideration of the (re-)emergence and disappearance of concepts about China

Panel organizer

Dr. Anno Dederichs (Universität Tübingen)



Panel abstract

The conceptualization of China as a systemic rival and geo-strategic antagonist has become an integral part of Western rhetoric and normality in the public debate about China. Expectations of political and social liberalization in the wake of China’s economic opening and its integration into global organizations have been disappointed. At the same time, China’s (re)rise is shifting the global balance of power toward multipolarity and is the subject of ongoing debates both inside and outside the country.

External descriptions of a China that is often thought of as monolithic are contrasted with internal Chinese self-descriptions. In addition to the portrayals of party-ideologically influenced propaganda, there are diverse Chinese self-descriptions, for example in the scientific system, the cultural sector and the intellectual public sphere-all of which are admittedly under state scrutiny.

In this context, the corona pandemic has not led to more solidarity; on the contrary, it has increased the already existing tensions between China and the West. Most recently, Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit led (among other things) to sharp rhetoric in Chinese and Western media and politics.

Hostilities between China and the ‘West’ are not new; rather, conceptualizations of China by the ‘West’ and Chinese self-conceptualizations are subject to change and fluctuation. Some concepts show a remarkable longevity (sustainability) other concepts last only a short time. These fluctuations refer not only to public representations, but also to nuanced scientific discussions.The concepts have far-reaching consequences for the perception of China. Underlying this is the constructivist assumption that perceptions of China are essentially interrelated to conceptualizations of what China is. Concepts of China or in relation to China arise from perceptions, which in turn are already shaped by concepts. These perceptions ultimately culminate in the narratives that are told about China. In many cases, the concepts cannot be neatly separated into perceptions of the outside world and self-perceptions; rather, these “Chinese” and “Western” concepts are often interwoven. Methodologically, concepts can be described as components of discourse. As macro-sociological knowledge structures, they have a constituting effect on the perception of everyday phenomena in relation to China and constitute distinctive, disciplinary orders through which power/knowledge works. The panel brings together empirical and theoretical contributions that address the emergence and disappearance of conceptualizations. Of particular interest is the question of what requirements concepts must fulfill in order to be sustainable or what contributes to their disappearance or (re)emergence.

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